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Kristi-Ann, from Aruba, spent the semester before Christmas studying the University of Ulster BSc (Hons) Social Work programme at SWC Dungannon, as part of the Erasmus+ programme. She reflects on her time in Northern Ireland.

I have lived in Aruba all my life. In Aruba it is very relaxed and easy going, you are never too far from the beach and it is always summer. I grew up in a loving family and there is always something to do, whether it is going to day camp in vacation or just hanging out with my friends in a park.

On the side of school, I used to be a member of the girl guides in Aruba, which was very fun and empowering to be a part of. I had also volunteered as a voice for the marketing of a mentor program for troubled youth. This was a whole other experience where my opinion was the topic and that was very motivating in terms of being young and heard.

I study at the University of Aruba in the Social Work & Development program. I am currently in my 3rd year and I enjoy it. Through this program I have had opportunities to learn about people and to get to know people and how diverse and similar we can all be as humans.

Erasmus+ is a program that enables students like me to be able to travel during our studies. Aruba being part of the Dutch kingdom allows me and other students from the University of Aruba to travel, gain experiences, and grow.

The Erasmus+ program gave me the opportunity to come to SWC college in Dungannon. I received a grant that helped me pay for the trip to Northern Ireland, which can be quite expensive. It has also helped me to pay for rent of my apartment. Through the Erasmus+ program I was able to make friends not only from Northern Ireland, but also from France and Hungary.

My time in Northern Ireland has helped me grow as a person; both in terms of taking care of myself, but also getting to know who I really am. I was able to reflect on what I left on Aruba and what understanding I will bring back to them about social work and about Northern Ireland.

During my time in Northern Ireland, I experienced taking the bus and not having a car, which was a bit annoying at first. Now it is just a part of my life and I feel relaxed when I take the bus and I like walking to and from town. I lived in Enniskillen, which is about 1 hour away from Dungannon, where my campus is. I have also learned about how Social Work works in Northern Ireland, where it is a bit more organised in my opinion. I have learned a lot about the history of Northern Ireland and I loved how I could go to a town and there would be murals that tell the story of what happened in the past.

I went surfing for the first time ever and I loved it. What I loved more about surfing was that I went to the beach. I did not think that I would miss the beach so much. It is different in Northern Ireland that at home, but I love the ocean and was so glad to be able to go into it.

I have also started to see how I take care of myself on an emotional level. I’ve had to deal with homesickness and feeling alone a few times while in Northern Ireland, but I have learned to cope through music and video calls with my loved ones.

In Aruba I drive a car everywhere and here I walk, take the bus, or take a taxi. I am used to hearing the American English and it is different from the English used in Northern Ireland, which has different words and a different accent. I have never lived on my own, which is a big difference, so I have learned to pay rent and to do groceries on a budget. Living with flat mates is different for me in terms of making a cleaning schedule, but we get along very well. The weather is different, back home it is always hot and in Northern Ireland is cold and raining. I was not used to this at first, but now I have bought the appropriate clothes and I understand how best to stay warm.

A huge difference is the distance. In Aruba I live 15 minutes away from the university and my classmates also live around 15 to 20 minutes away. South West College students often travel much further to go to College, and it is completely normal. My timetable was also different to what i was used to.

My experience allowed me to discover new ideas on how to improve social work and social work practice. I think that this experience could also be used in my future career with having a broader global perspective. I have now studied and lived in a whole other country where social work and life itself can be very different to what I am used to.

I would definitely encourage others to take the opportunity that the Erasmus+ program offers, because that way you grow in your studies and you grow as a person as well. The personal growth comes when you decide to leave your comfort zone and go live somewhere different, and this is also an opportunity to get to know yourself better.

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